Players: 2 - 6
Set-up time: Variable
Time to play: Multiple sessions
Average price: $15 / £15
The Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set does exactly what it says on the tin. Besides teaching you how to play, it allows would-be adventurers to plunder ancient ruins, slap dragons, and have a generally lovely time in a world of swords and sorcery. However, the fact that it's still as relevant now as it was upon release in 2014 tells you something. More specifically, the D&D Starter Set still holds up as the easiest route into one of the best tabletop RPGs out there.
No, it's not perfect. But it's exactly what new players and Dungeon Masters need it to be. This game can be intimidating at the best of times, so it's no bad thing that the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set is laid out in as user-friendly way as possible. And sure, it's not strictly necessary for folks who just want to play (you can get premade character sheets and basic rules for free online, after all). Yet the D&D Starter Set is damn-near essential for those hoping to run their first TRPG.
We're going on an adventure
As you'd expect, the D&D Starter Set contains everything you need to play the game. That means you're getting dice, a rulebook that'll take your characters from levels one to five, a pre-written campaign, and enough pre-generated characters with ready-made stats for five people. While you're not getting miniatures or battle maps here (this kit leans on imagination, or 'theatre of the mind', instead), the value is still pretty good - you can usually pick up the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set for less than $15 / £15. That pushes it into impulse-purchase territory, so you won't feel too put out even if the game isn't your jam.
It's accessible in terms of content, too. Although creating your own characters and backstory is part of the fun when you learn how to start playing D&D, being able to use the premade sheets in their entirety or as a starting point bypasses complex rules. The number-crunching involved in figuring out your stats - not to mention class info and other traits - can easily turn off would-be players, so avoiding it entirely is welcome. Again, the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set isn't needed if you just want to play with others (all of the above can be found for free online), but it's nice to have physical booklets and sheets to pore over nonetheless.
Instead, the D&D Starter Set comes into its own for budding Dungeon Masters. You'll get the most out of this kit if you're hoping to DM for friends, and the box's contents are enough to accommodate five players. That's because it walks you through the basics of Dungeons and Dragons - combat, exploration, and roleplay - in bite-size chunks that are easy to follow regardless of how much time you've had to prep.
Centered around a frontier village in the Forgotten Realms (the same universe as Baldur's Gate 3 and Neverwinter), this adventure is packed with enough details on the area and its people to give the illusion of a living, breathing society. Even though other entry-level TRPGs like the Dishonored roleplaying game are more scannable, there's a wealth of info here that will result in a deep and layered game-world.
That said, those locations and non-player characters leave enough to the imagination that you can make them your own. The same is true of the quest itself. Despite following a set storyline, it has enough wriggle-room to let you draw outside of the lines (especially if you buy the digital version via a tabletop simulator, as described in our guide on how to play D&D online).
Speaking of the quest, things begin much like you'd imagine from classic D&D: the players are mercenary adventurers hired to protect a wagon and its cargo. Naturally, things soon go wrong and the party is forced to unravel a conspiracy about ancient dwarven treasure and those who want to use it for their own nefarious purposes. It's not the finest D&D campaign out there - the villains are rather forgettable, and they're not around for long enough to build up a rivalry - but it has all the ingredients you'd hope for. There are ancient ruins to explore, bandits to battle, NPCs to meet, goblins to overcome, mysteries to solve, and, of course, a dragon.
That's what makes the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set such a success in spite of failings here and there. It boils the game down to its foundations in mechanics and theme, leaving behind only the most appealing, iconic elements.